In a new space.

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How do you make a house feel like a home?

Our new house is beautiful. It is a sudden rise up, a view and some space, but we have not changed, our money situation has not changed. So how do we reconcile this shift? How do we hold it and live inside of it, expand and live in these spaces? How do we make a home here?

The younger kids roam. They ride their bikes and their scooters. Solo rides his wave board, all geared up with elbow pads and knee pads, looking like a kid in a catalog. They run to Winnie and Josh’s house to hang out with their friends, then all of them careen over here.

The older kids hide out. They find privacy where they can, in their rooms. Kenya draws and reads. Kai tests out the computer he bought with money he saved up, a great bargain when his host family moved away and sold it to him. He throws a football (An American football, Leafy insists. A football, Kai replies, in an old argument between people who feel more rooted here or there) to his siblings with his excellent arm, and they catch it again and again. Or they all go to the basketball court.

(Rumor has it that the village was talking about a certain kid of ours (maybe Solo) who was at the basketball court at 6:00 in the morning the other day. I have a feeling that not much of what we do here will go unnoticed.)

Chinua builds shelves, installs things, and plays his trumpet. I go through boxes. But I can’t wait to finish unpacking before having people over, so people are here among the boxes, in the bones of our new life, not yet settled, not yet complete. It doesn’t feel like home if others are not here. This is the life we have always lived. I don’t know how to make it homey any other way.

So I cook and we eat together outside. We have a covered outdoor table, the delight of my heart, in our carport. Who needs to cover a car? We would rather have a table there—a mystery to our landlords, who protect their car from rain or sunshine. Every countertop in our kitchen is too short for me, so I have embraced the old art of sitting while chopping. We have dinner and Bible circle with our friends over, and everyone is a bit astounded by our new view. The light shows off on the hills. We sit on cushions in the living room, surrounded by bugs, cups, tea, and hot water in the middle of the circle.  We read John 5 together, and discuss. I am always thankful for the perspective people from around the world bring, and this time is no different, as we hear about spirituality in Mexico, Spain, and the Philippines.

I want to try to live in my life, not drift along. Probably writing stories will help. Stories of our life here in this place. And to live in something beautiful, something more spacious than we are used to? I guess it is just thankfulness that helps with that. To acknowledge what we have been given. A view. That’s a mighty thing. I didn’t form those mountains, but there they are for me to see. I feel small in comparison. I didn’t plant these trees, but here they are. It is a vulnerable thing, to learn to receive. Inside I feel used to scrapping along, sure that what I have comes from my own power. Fists up.

How do you make a house feel like a home? Open hands, relaxed shoulders, lights and candles, sitting together. Songs in the house, maybe a dance party. Homeschool and students coming to learn. Figuring out the rhythms of life. (There has to be milk for the morning, because the store is far away.) Comforting crying children. Sorting out arguments. Driving to town for meditation. Cutting flowers for a vase. Planting a vegetable garden. There are hundreds of ways to make a house feel like a home.

Treasures.

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I brought some of my treasures out, missing the forests and oceans of my other home(s).

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I've always had a problem with waking up in the middle of the night and thinking too much. The Psalmist says, “I meditate on you in the watches of the night.” I wish for it. Sometimes, when I am in those unforgiving hours when every problem feels like a life sentence, I try to visualize being completely surrounded by God. I am floating, suspended in grace and love. I am weightless, safe, and tiny, a speck in the river. The river is mercy, purpose, and good heartedness toward me.

I drift off to sleep eventually.

*

Can anyone overcome a life of bad patterns of thinking?

Sometimes it is lifted, and I feel free and like I’m completely changed. Other times, it plummets back down on me. Anxiety. A pounding in the heart. A quickening of the breath. Danger! Danger!

Gertrude is back.

Gertrude, my anxiety dragon. She’s rather sweet and lovable sometimes, curled up asleep in the closet. But she can be a regular pain in the bum if she wakes up while I’m trying to write a book, or go shopping (she hates shopping) or talk to Chinua about plans (she hates making plans.)

She worries too much about danger.

“Go back to sleep, Gertrude,” I tell her.

She responds with a gust of flame and wraps around my heart, making it hurt.

“Or don’t,” I say. I can’t make her do what I want.

I want to love her, like I want to love everyone. Nothing can be too scary if it’s loved. But sometimes I’m preoccupied by what ifs- what if I didn’t have a pet anxiety dragon? What if she toddled off into the forest one day, never to be seen again? What if instead of an anxiety dragon I had a confidence rabbit?

Can you love something and want to exchange it for a rabbit?

*

She’s here at the moment, trying to warn me of imminent danger. I’ve tried to convince her that these woods are safe, that the trees are our friends, but she’s nothing if not vigilent.

Sometimes when Gertrude is here, she locks up my neck.

Sometimes I may have to go to bed for the day.

Today, I have a plan. Fifteen minutes, not thinking too much, tricking the dragon.

Fifteen minutes of work at a time.

Live in my body, hugging my family, not thinking about what I cannot control.

And tricks, lots of tricks, tricky tricks.

Like:

A cup of tea.

A drive on the motorbike for the breeze on my skin.

One small task done.

Pretending work is not work, so Gertrude doesn’t blast me.

And noticing every little thing, to mark it, to make it physical, to not let fear rule me. 

*

We’ve had rain lately, and the skies have been gorgeous. Soon Isaac will wake up and come to find me and hug me. Leafy has been making sugar glass. I’m learning a new song on the clarinet, and working on mandolin scales. Today is gardeniing day, and I think I’ll head over to Shekina to work in the garden for a while, then come back with my friend Claudia to work on sorting and packing.

(We’re moving house, which is rather big news. Gertrude is worried about it. I’m excited.)

I made granola the other day, and there’s nothing like granola and milk with mango sliced into it. Or maybe I’ll have a smoothie, with coconut milk and strawberries. I’ll burn a candle. Maybe work on my blanket. Later Kenya and I will watch a show or listen to music together. Chinua will move a few boxes over to the new house and in between working, practice his trumpet. Solomon will dance and hug me. I’m here. These trees are friendly. The animals are safe. The woods are only woods.

It’s been this way for a long time.

God is ever and always beside me, his breath in the wind that swoops through the leaves overhead. His kiss on my face. I have nothing to fear.

River thoughts.

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It was forty degrees and we were baking, so I took Solo and Isaac to the river.

Don’t forget this, I whispered to myself.

The river was warm, shallow, and full of algae in the late hot season. I trusted in our well developed immune systems. Flowers from nearby trees floated along, and the only other people there were a bunch of kids; the children of parents who work at the guesthouses along the river.

I was there with my boys, who took turns curling into me while I sat on the floor of the river. Every so often I climbed the bank and ran over to the garden to move the sprinklers. (I burned the bottoms of my feet on the hot pavement, not discovering this until later when I found it hard to walk.)

The river, the boys. Isaac attempting to skip rocks. Solo floating and diving down. These are the stories we will tell about our lives. I drive the chariot through town, we walk along swaying bridges. A man walks along the river with a snorkel mask and a spear gun, looking for his dinner.

Back at home, I went to the afternoon market and picked up some chopped pumpkin and made what we call Pumpkin The Egg, after a Thai menu board we saw ages ago. I made carrot juice and we were all tired after too much sun. Isaac lost his first tooth. After dinner, Solo practiced trumpet with Chinua and I practiced my neglected clarinet. Isaac tried to play the clarinet for a while, he’s fascinated with it.

We read together and then prayed for our friends, near and far. Every single thing we did was interrupted. Every thing I planned was edited with some other need. My teenagers are going through hard times. (Not Leafy! Ah, hormones come for all.)

Every time I tried to read or pray, Isaac would suddenly have a thought and HAVE to share it and it drove me crazy. Solo had a rough day in many ways.

But the river, the long hot afternoon, reminiscent of so many hot season afternoons through the years, the little tiny beautiful moments. The sun finally bright again after the smoke. The hope of rain. Change on the horizon. It is such a beautiful life, more intense with joy because it is so fleeting.

An easier way.

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I’m on a solitary writing retreat, thinking about my daily rhythms of life and what helps me versus what hurts me. This morning I meditated, prayed, exercised, showered, and read a chapter in a helpful book. It is now five minutes to 7:00. I feel like I’ve cared for myself. I feel like I’m ready to work. Normally I’ve already tried to get an hour of writing into this time, so it makes sense that I don’t do this every day, or does it?

I don’t do it because of the feeling of walls around me in my life.

There is so much that we don’t do because of the feeling of being fenced in. There are these cramped boundaries we give ourselves. I don’t have enough time. Twenty minutes is all I or you need to do the next thing, so we kinda do have time.

We do have natural limits. I’ve learned this in the past year, as I moved closer to burnout more than I ever have before. However, because the day feels wide and free today, because I am on a retreat, I managed to take care of myself fully, and still end up at the page earlier than I might normally, if I was overwhelmed and procrastinating or avoiding my work. And that means that the time limits are sometimes in my head.

I’m thinking about an easier way to live.

I think it connects well with my faith, with Jesus, who said, “Do not worry about anything, for which of you by worrying can add a single day to her life?”

Or which of you by procrastinating and anxiety can eke another hour out the day?

Or which of you by not playing or taking care of yourself can save up enough for what your children need?

Or which of you by obsessing can control the world and take care of all the needs around you?

Where is this easier way?

Actually, every day is wide and free. Tasks don’t close me in. My thoughts close me in. Thoughts that say, don’t exercise or work on your writing right now because you have a meeting in six hours and its probably better to walk in circles and think about all the things you have ever done wrong.

Work is not the problem. Work can always be holy in a trusting heart. Each day is full of possibility, of walking in the glittering shadow of God, who creates as easily as he breathes. The Creative Wild Spirit of God, ready for me to give her enough room to turn every conversation into a sanctuary for kindness. I am not in some godless boring world where every act is doled out by me in a scarce approximation of building a house, brick by brick.

Jesus invites me to create with him. To continue what has already been done for eons, this continuing creation in love that floods the devastated places.

I can admit that I don’t come to peace naturally, but perhaps a hard won peace is still precious.

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. A new Patron only post (An Illustrated List of Good and Inspiring Things) is up now.

Hands open.

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 I was watering the garden in the smoke yesterday, watching how quickly the water disappears into the dry earth. Our friend who is helping with watering asked me if she was doing it right on her days. “I just don’t understand why it looks like I’m not even watering.” 

“It’s just that dry,” I told her.

 A drop lands and practically sizzles. It sends a puff of dust. The sky is like a bruise. The sun simultaneously scorching and weak through the smoke.

I watered, and I thought, “That first rain is going to be like a miracle.” 

It takes going through a dry season here to really appreciate the rain. 

The sky opens up. Water comes from heaven. What? Is that really possible? 

In two minutes God accomplishes what I would have to spend eight hours to do with my puny little sprinklers. 

The first rain.

Fasting and feasting. Waiting for the promise. The Bible is packed full of references to this part of our life with God. We are in the now/not yet. We know rain will come, but we can’t control when it will give us those first drops. 

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; 

His going out is as sure as the dawn;

He will come to us as the showers, 

As the spring rain that waters the earth.”  - Hosea 6:3

Sometimes when I am waiting for God, I get a little too invested in my own systems. I wrap my gnarled rat hands around the garden hose, insisting that my efforts are going to be AMAZING. It’s okay if you don’t want to come now, I tell him. I can do it all by myself. 


And then the rain comes. It drenches me, the garden hose, my gnarled rat hands and my face scrunched up from my efforts to be a tiny god. We are all soaked, instantly. Better to lay down on the ground, hands open, mouth open. 


That first rain is going to be like a miracle.

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(Cross posted at the Shekina Blog.)

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. Special thanks this month to new patron, Stephanie Connelly!